Of a giant and a gnome

Illumina acquires BlueGnome, a provider of cytogenetics and in-vitro fertilization screening solutions

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SAN DIEGO—In support of its goals indiagnostics and a desire to enhance its position in the areas ofreproductive health and cancer, life-science tools and integratedsystems powerhouse Illumina Inc. acquired Cambridge, U.K.-basedBlueGnome Ltd. for an undisclosed sum.
With the mid-September acquisition,BlueGnome—a leading provider of solutions for the screening ofgenetic abnormalities associated with developmental delay, cancer andinfertility—is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Illumina.

In collaboration with some of theworld's leading in-vitro fertilization (IVF) centers, Illuminanotes, BlueGnome developed 24sure, a pre-implantation geneticscreening (PGS) test for counting the chromosomes in a single humancell. This is a test said to hold enormous promise for increasing IVFsuccess rates, with clinical data showing PGS greatly both increasespregnancy rates and reduces miscarriages.

BlueGnome's offerings also includeCytoChip, a powerful test for the investigation of geneticabnormalities mainly associated with developmental delay or withcomplex leukemias. CytoChip is used by more than 200 labs across 40countries worldwide as a first-line cytogenetic test, replacingtraditional G-band karyotyping, according to Illumina and BlueGnome.

"The BlueGnome acquisition supportsIllumina's goal to be the leader in genomic-based diagnostics andenhances the company's ability to establish integrated solutions inreproductive health and cancer," said Jay Flatley, president andCEO of Illumina, in the news release about the deal. "BlueGnome isthe leader in the rapidly growing IVF market and is well known fortheir software and comprehensive assay workflows."

Illumina has been working in the areaof cytogenetics for a while and had its own cytogenetic array, GregHeath, senior vice president and general manager of Illumina'sdiagnostics business, tells ddn. The company started hearingmore and more about BlueGnome's software through feedback fromtheir own customers and other avenues, and found the functionality itoffered very intriguing.

"We were already familiar with them,when we finally got a chance to meet directly at a conference acouple years ago," Heath recalls. "We started discussions aboutpossible collaboration down the line and both they and we were reallyinterested in going that route. We never did have an opportunity toteam up on anything, but because we really liked what we saw, wedecided more recently to take the positive impressions from ourearlier talks and just move forward to acquire BlueGnome."

It was about four years ago thatIllumina established its diagnostics business, Heath notes, and hesays one of the first things the company did was map out areas whereIllumina's technology would have significant advantages—and oneof those areas was in genetics.

"To point a finer point on it, we sawa lot of potential in reproductive genetics," Heath explains, "andBlueGnome has the cytogenetic side, the PGS side and alsopre-implantation genetic diagnostics—or PGD. We think thereproduction genetic testing and diagnostics market is going to takeoff, and there's pretty low penetration right now. We have thetechnology and this is good timing to add BlueGnome to ouroperations."
Heath also notes that beyondBlueGnome's strong software capabilities, the company is alsowell-established in clinical trials and cytogenetics labs, whichmeans it has commercial outlets into which Illumina can tap, makingit "a nice commercial fit as well as a good technological fit."

"By joining forces with Illumina, wewill be able to leverage the industry's leading microarray andsequencing platforms for our next-generation products," said NickHaan, president and CEO of BlueGnome, in the news release about thedeal. "The throughput and data quality of Illumina's sequencersenable us to consider revolutionary new approaches to genetictesting."

Haan and BlueGnome co-founder GrahamSnudden will continue to lead BlueGnome, according to Illumina, andthey will report to Heath. In addition to its headquarters inEngland, BlueGnome—which spun out as an independent company fromthe University of Cambridge in 2002—has offices in Fairfax, Va.,and Singapore.

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